Pennsylvanians whose homes, businesses, crops and roads have been damaged by intense flooding events in recent years might well ask, “What are our leaders doing to lead on climate change in Pennsylvania?”
The Pennsylvania Climate Change Act of 2008 requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to provide the Legislature and governor every three years a report on current and projected climate change impacts, and a plan of actions to reduce carbon emissions.
DEP published Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 in September. It’s a strong plan to protect Pennsylvanians, and we call for statewide action on it now.
With the average statewide temperature steadily climbing, Pennsylvanians are on course for more frequent heavy rainfall events, temperature swings and heatwaves.
This is especially significant for the nearly 30% of Pennsylvanians who live in low-income and minority communities that have already borne decades of environmental burdens. It also has considerable implications for farmers, businesses and outdoor workers; the health, safety and recreation opportunities of all Pennsylvanians; and the ecosystem we all depend on.
While we’ve made modest progress in lowering carbon emissions, if we don’t lower emissions further and faster, and start now to adapt to impacts that have already begun, Pennsylvanians will be stuck in a reactive mode as climate instability increases.
If we tap into Pennsylvania’s strong traditions of energy innovation and community pride, we can be proactive.
The Climate Action Plan details many things we can do: legislators, government offices, communities, businesses, farmers, residents—all Pennsylvanians.
For starters, we can make our approximately 50,000 commercial buildings and 5 million residences statewide more energy efficient.
This can be done, for example, by adopting the most up-to-date building energy codes and requiring electric companies to expand their customer energy-saving programs. Gas utilities can also be required to provide these customer programs.
Going all in on energy efficiency will not only lower carbon emissions, it also will reduce Pennsylvanians’ utility and heating bills, which are a disproportionate expense for many low-income households. An energy efficiency campaign will also create new jobs that require training but not a college degree.
Research shows that energy efficiency companies have been a key driver in increasing clean energy sector jobs in Pennsylvania.
We can also transition briskly to electric vehicles by supporting expansion of charging infrastructure and helping businesses and organizations convert their fleets to electric.
For residents, we can make more electric vehicles available on car lots by setting electric vehicle sales minimums for auto manufacturers. Developing a program to provide point-of-sale vouchers would make electric cars an option for a wider range of Pennsylvanians, beyond those who can afford to wait for a rebate after purchase.
We can also require electricity generators to get more energy from clean, renewable sources, like solar. We can capture more methane from plant and animal sources (such as food waste and manure) for use by commercial and industrial properties. We can, and must, ensure the voices of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents are at the table in all of our climate efforts.
State government climate action has accelerated under the Wolf administration. At DEP, we’re working full-bore on energy efficiency, clean renewable energy, energy storage, transportation electrification and clean energy employment. To the fullest extent we can, we’re generating the research, regulations, initiatives, partnerships, and funding needed to spur action.
For example, we’re working to lower carbon pollution from our electric sector by taking steps for Pennsylvania to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Through the DEP Local Climate Action Program, we’re enabling municipalities, including a number of communities in western Pennsylvania, to assess their local climate change vulnerabilities and begin planning. Everyone can find these and many other climate initiatives at dep.pa.gov/climate. Other state agencies are also taking climate action.
But more Pennsylvania leaders and residents need to be informed and energized on climate.
Pennsylvania can’t solve the climate crisis alone. But the world can’t solve the climate crisis without Pennsylvania. While many eyes are on the United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow, ours remain on the health and safety of Pennsylvanians, today and tomorrow.
First Published November 11, 2021, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette